Dietz: Ex-Illini helps rev up Bengal running game

Ken Blackman's always had a thing for motorcycles. He grew up on bikes and got his first Harley-Davidson when he was a junior at Illinois.

In his spare time, the Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman builds custom choppers. Blackman's got a handful in the works, including one for Indianapolis Colts' tight end Bradford Banta.

"I like to tinker with them every now and then," Blackman said. "It's something I'm considering investing in. I've been talking to some friends about it."

Most of his time's spent trying to block National Football League defensive linemen and linebackers. But there's plenty of tinkering left for a 3-7 team.

The starting right guard and his Bengals struggled through a seven-game losing streak after winning the opener. But things have started to change.

Cincinnati has consecutive wins over San Diego and winless Indianapolis – where Banta grilled him about his bike. It's not like they knocked off San Francisco and Green Bay, but the Bengals finally have shown the offensive promise people expected back in October.

"We're starting to get some confidence," Blackman said. "We're running on all cylinders. Before, it seemed like something would always break down at the most important time."

The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Blackman and his linemates have been a big reason for the success.

The formerly frustrated running game has produced more than 300 yards in the last two games, and the Bengals have scored 66 points in those contests. Rookie running back Corey Dillon has emerged as a 100-yard guy.

"Our emphasis has been to run the ball," Blackman said. "We're known as a passing team, but we beat them with the run."

The second-year pro is starting to get the feel of beating defenders. He's started all but two games – a knee injury put him on injured reserve – and feels he's up to speed with the big boys.

"I'm learning more and more," said Blackman, who was converted from defense to offense before his senior year at the UI. "The strength's there, I just need more sound technique."

Strength's not a problem for the avid weightlifter. The problem is keeping the Bengals machine running smooth the rest of the season.

They're at Pittsburgh today, and any breakdowns against the division leaders will spoil some already shaky postseason hopes.

"We're trying to get a little streak going," he said. "We still have a shot at the playoffs. I think 9-7 will get us in, so we have to keep producing. We're not out of it yet."

Ex-Illini of the week.

The circumstances weren't the best, but John Holecek got his first career start at linebacker for the Buffalo Bills a couple of weeks ago.

Holecek, starting for the injured Chris Spielman, registered 14 tackles in a 9-6 win over Miami, then got six stops and a half-sack in a 31-10 loss to New England last week.

The former special teams player likely will get the starting nod the remainder of the season.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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